- Mental Health
Taming the Wild Horse of Anxiety
Racing thoughts, rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, blurred vision, dizziness, lumpy or dry throat, stomach upset, muscle twitching, or tightness in the chest all signal anxiety. The combination leaves one feeling numb, uptight, and unable to think clearly. Like a wild horse racing through the countryside, anxiety wreaks havoc. The symptoms escalate into panic attacks, chronic pain, stomach ulcers, clogged arteries, stroke, and nervous breakdowns.
Anxiety can be the result of stress issues with work and family, trauma, sudden loss, or severe injury. Chemical imbalances within the body or brain trigger anxiety. Whatever the cause, we have to first acknowledge that we have it, and then learn to respect and work with it. Like a chronic illness, anxiety does not go away. Our success in dealing with it is in learning to manage the symptoms. The same techniques used in the training of horses apply to taming our anxiety:
- Corral it
- Move slowly and deliberately
- Speak calming words
- Allow it room to run
- Keep hold of the reins
Corralling a wild horse is not easy. We have to learn everything we can about the animal. Where it hangs out, what it eats and drinks, and how it responds to and affects its surroundings. Our anxiety is no different. Before we can bring it under control, we have to learn everything we can about it. As we record what we experience, we grow in our understanding of how it functions in our lives.
What do you know about your anxiety?
This is accomplished by asking ourselves:
- What am I experiencing?
- What are the surrounding circumstances?
- How am I responding to the symptoms?
- What makes the symptoms worse?
- What makes the symptoms better?
A number of personal factors affect how our anxiety manifests itself. These include the amount of sleep we have, what we eat, the sensory stimulation we experience, and our level of stress. The more records we keep, the better we become at identifying the triggers. Choosing to go through this difficult process gives us vital information that enables us to get close enough that we can have an effect on our anxiety.
The person that is able to bring a wild horse to the corral has learned sufficient information that the animal comes willingly into the situation without anyone getting hurt. Once we have gathered enough information about our anxiety that we can get close to it without getting hurt, then we are ready for the next step, that of moving slowly and deliberately.
Move Slowly and Deliberately
Once the horse is in the corral, we aren't able to immediately get on it and ride! This is important to know. Often, we get impatient with our anxiety. We want it to change quickly, and stop causing us problems. We want to ride an obedient horse without going through the process of training it!
Unfortunately, our impatience gets us into trouble. Unless we go through the detailed process of getting to know the horse, and allowing it to get to know us, we will not be allowed to ride. We will simply be bucked off, and the process will have to start all over again.
When we walk into the corral with our anxiety, it is necessary to give it our full and undivided attention. It has a mind of its own, and should we make any sudden moves, or try to take advantage of its vulnerability, we may end up on the other side of the fence, and not by us putting ourselves there!
Slow, deliberate movements are necessary. As we slow down, our anxiety slows down. When the trainer moves around the horse, she does so slowly, gesturing in wide motions, and staying at a distance. In order for us to be in the same place as our anxiety, we must move slowly and deliberately.
Slow movement is manageable movement. It enables us to get comfortable with our anxiety. If we want to stay in the same room together, we must develop a relationship of trust. Trust happens when we become predictable. Our anxiety develops boundaries when we discover how our thoughts and movement affect it.
Speak calming words
Once the horse and the trainer become accustomed to being together in the same place, the horse allows the trainer to walk up to it, pet it, and talk to it. This process establishes a relationship between them and prepares the horse for accepting the bit and bridle.
Our slow, deliberate movements give our anxiety room to get used to us. We continue moving slowly as we get closer to it. In order to keep our anxiety from jumping away or getting skittish, we speak calming words and use soft touches.
At first, it may seem awkward to speak calming words to ourselves. We have to remember that the anxiety is not us. We are smart, intelligent, loving, and kind. Anxiety is the wild horse that has taken up residence within us. We are speaking to the anxiety as if it were a separate entity. Doing so enables us to keep our emotions intact.
Our calming influence comes from softly speaking words such as:
- It's okay
- Things will be all right
- You can do it
- That's right
- Keep up the good work
These encouraging words will be music to the ears of our anxiety. It is not accustomed to being soothed, and it is much needed. Soft touch can come in the form of wrapping ourselves with a blanket, using a message device, taking a warm bath, holding and petting a dog or cat, or getting a hug from a loved one. These soft touches are soothing to our anxiety, and help build our relationship of trust together.
Allow it room to run
Even after the trainer has developed a relationship of trust with the horse to the point that they can be close to each other, it is necessary for the trainer to allow the horse room to run. Horses are large animals, and their muscles need to be worked regularly.
Our anxiety is much larger than we are. It needs to be allowed freedom to move on a regular basis. In other words, we need to be able to step back, even after we have learned everything we can about it to the point that we are able to affect it, we still need to turn it loose and let it run wild to keep it willing to come back and be comfortable with us again.
This can be done through the technique of visualization. We visualized our anxiety as a separate entity in our minds by giving it form. The horse analogy is perfect. It is a large, spirited animal, and we can easily visualize it running through the fields and pastures.
Giving our horse room to run can be visualized by:
- Removing the horse's bit and bridle, and walking away from it
- Opening the gate of the corral, and letting the horse run into the surrounding pasture
- Taking the horse out of its stall, and letting it roam free in an open space
- Letting the horse be with other horses that are actively moving
Once we visualize the horse going free in our mind, our anxiety is temporarily decreased, and we are able to relax and rest. This is especially helpful at night when we are trying to sleep. Anxiety frequently keeps our minds active, even when our bodies are trying to rest. Letting the horse run free during this time allows the body to unwind and relax.
Keep hold of the reins
Our anxiety is an integral part of our lives, giving us talents and abilities that we may not have in any other way, just like a horse becomes a part of the rider. Together, they can go places and do things that are impossible with human effort alone. Anxiety is a heightened awareness of our senses and surroundings. We notice things that others do not, and are able to see details and nuances that are not normally perceived by others.
In order to fully utilize the gifts we experience with our anxiety, it is necessary for us to keep hold of the reins. Our grip allows us to speed up, slow down, turn, and change our anxiety as needed to suite the circumstances that we are in. This gives us the ability to make ourselves useful to our families, coworkers, and friends in ways that will bless their lives, as well as our own.
Just like in the video, there will be times when we loose our footing, or something happens and we end up on the ground, either figuratively or literally. This does not mean that we have failed, that our anxiety has gotten the best of us, or that life is no longer worth living. Rather, it simply means that we are human, and that we have been given a very difficult task. We simply need to get up, brush ourselves off, and keep going.
Anxiety may be running wild in our lives right now, wreaking havoc, but given the proper instruction and training, it can become our friend. Tame your anxiety today.
© 2014 Denise W Anderson